The bold mission of internal gravity makes jetpacks a reality

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Inventors like Richard Browning (Richard Browning) have been trying to make jetpacks. Now they are here, how do we deal with them?
When someone took a jetpack for the first time, something strange happened: just like their body was off the ground, their legs started to swing. Adrenaline flooded into the blood. The waist muscles on the feet tightened, and the toes desperately grasped the ground. It seems that the vestibular system cannot fully believe what is happening. This is unnatural. Then suddenly, the thrust exceeded the weight, and-they were high. Millions of years of development were overcome in an instant, and two dimensions became three dimensions. Latitude, longitude, altitude.
It was at that moment, taking off, that the jetpack had a lasting appeal for over a century. People have always dreamed of flying outside the limits of the airplane, but if there is no take-off, the existing methods (parachutes, hang gliders, wing suits) are indeed an elegant way to extend the fall.
Richard Browning (Richard Browning) said: “In an overwhelming, indescribable way.” Founder and CEO of jet startup Gravity Industries, 41-year-old brown hair, brown hair, beard And the slim body of an endurance athlete. (Its slogan is: “We made 1000 horsepower jet combat suits.”) He is also the company’s main designer and chief test pilot. Since the launch of Gravity three years ago, Browning has taken off thousands of times, conducted live demonstrations in more than 30 countries, set the Guinness World Record (twice), and earned more than 10 million for his merits Of YouTube views. But he still remembers his first liftoff: in November 2016, in a farmyard just minutes away from his house in Salisbury.
At the time, Browning was an oil trader and worked as a stable desk at the oil giant BP. But Browning has always been a tinkerer and has been pushed to the limit. He participated in ultramarathons; practiced aerobics, which is an intense weight training (he would push-ups when standing); and served in the Royal Marine Corps Reserve for six years, winning his green beret. At BP, he developed an innovative method of tracking global oil movement by monitoring ships’ GPS transponders. He said that the system was built on a budget of 20,000 pounds and earned 50 million pounds for the company in six months. (Similar systems are now a standard configuration for the entire industry.) “He will always do other things, big things, some unusual things,” one of Browning’s former colleagues, Gravity’s chief operating officer Maria Vildavskaya said.
In the spring of 2016, Browning decided to buy jet engines on the Internet. This is not a completely impulsive purchase: Browning comes from a long list of aviation troops. His maternal grandfather, Sir Basil Blackwell (Basil Blackwell) was the former CEO of Westland Helicopters, and the other was a wartime pilot. His father, Michael Browning (Michael Browning) was also an aeronautical engineer and serial inventor. As a child, Browning would spend his vacation home from boarding school and help in his father’s studio. Together, they will build model gliders out of balsa wood and then drive to the top of a nearby mountain to launch them. He said: “Thanks to my father and grandfather, I might be able to describe how jet engines worked when they were ten years old.”
The engine that Browning bought was a micro gas turbine. Micro-micro gas turbines are essentially jet engines that work by compressing air at extremely high speeds and then burning fuel (usually kerosene) to generate thrust. Although too small for civil aircraft, the technology has developed rapidly in recent years due to the continuous growth of the amateur and military training UAV market. Browning said: “The world of micro gas turbines is completely dominated by the people who model airplanes, so they accelerate their development in this unconstrained way.” The most attractive thing is their size: no larger than 2L Coke bottle and weight. An engine of only 1.9kg can produce 22kg of thrust. According to Browning’s theory, by gathering several people together, you will have enough strength to lift one person.
Browning ignites it as soon as it reaches the engine. He said: “My God, the sound is incredible.” Encouraged, he built an aluminum boom and reused the electric drill’s trigger as a throttle. Soon, he was standing on a small country road with a pressurized leaf blower on his arm, fixed to the fuel tank of the mop bucket. He said: “It was a profound moment.” He was worried that the torque from the engine would twist his arm, but “it was just a spongy push, like a stream of water.”
In the following months, Browning’s jet suit became fascinating. Every night, he would wake up at 1 in the morning, work in this suit in his spare bedroom for three or four hours, and then sleep on the train to London. One engine became two, then four, then six: two mounted on each boom and one tied to each ankle. He hid the oil sac in a rucksack secured with a seat belt. At first, he mainly retained this idea. He said: “No one thinks it will work.” On weekends, Browning would drag his family to the farm to test. While his children were playing, Browning tried to fly.
Early testing is a series of failures. Browning can’t stay high, only manages a series of stretched boundaries. He often fell down, and when he tried to use the seat belt, he found himself being dumped like a puppet. Engine temperament, and expensive. Every time it breaks, it needs to be sent back to the German manufacturer for refurbishment. “It’s just chaos,” he said. “There was a little blast, flashes of smoke, and some short circuits. I was exhausted and thought, what am I doing?” But every time I fail, I make progress. He said: “I feel a little irrationally excited about this trip.” “I’ve been thinking: this will work.”
Then, on a weekend in November 2016, things happened. After another brief moon rebound, Browning held down the throttle trigger, leaned against the engine of his arm, and-took off. There is a video at this moment: Browning, one leg trembling, flying around in the yard, slightly out of balance. The flight lasted more than six seconds. However, when he smiled at the camera, a thought still came to his mind: “I just flew! I just flew!”
The idea of ​​the jetpack can be traced back to at least 1919, when the Russian inventor Alexander Fedorovich Andreev (Alexander Fedorovich Andreev) applied for a patent for the rocket in the backpack. (Until the 21st century, almost all jetpacks were actually rocket backpacks.) Andreyev imagined soldiers wearing these devices, allowing them to “siege fortresses, bypass all earth obstacles, and fly freely behind the enemy.” “His equipment was never manufactured, but the idea spread. During World War II, the Nazis worked on Himmelstürmer, a wearable V1 rocket designed to enable troops to overcome higher obstacles. That was also not produced, but when the US army recruited German rocket scientists after the war, jetpacks followed. By the 1960s, the U.S. Armed Forces had been testing several designs, including a “jump belt” known as the “Grasshopper Project” and a flying platform designed to lift snipers up the battlefield.
In 1962, Bell Aerosystems introduced the silver and white jetpack design for the first time, with two oil foil-covered exhaust nozzles protruding from behind the fuel tank. It is called the “Bell Rocket Belt”. It runs on hydrogen peroxide and can carry a pilot for 21 seconds, enough time to fly about 250 meters. Although its limited range is useless for military applications, the Bell Rocket Belt caused a sensation. Soon, jetpacks were everywhere, from Jetsons to the Bond movie “Thunderball,” where James Bond (actually the pilot Bill Suitor) flew over the Bell Rocket belt . Even decades later, Jetpack starred in Team A and the opening ceremony of the 1984 Olympic Games. Everyone thinks this is the future of personal transportation-it seems it’s just a matter of when.
But then the jetpack failed. Rocket propulsion is inefficient and heavy. Despite improvements, the pilots were still unable to carry enough hydrogen peroxide to fly for more than 30 seconds. In such a short window, you cannot fly high or very far, nor can you carry heavy objects. Apart from spectacles, no one can fully understand the purpose of jetpacks. Bell gave up the rocket belt in the 1970s, and then almost everyone else gave up. Some stubborn inventors continue to search for the cause, sometimes fanatical. (In 1999, an American startup tried to copy the “Bell Rocket Belt”, but ended up in lawsuits, kidnappings and murders.) But in most cases, jetpacks became a joke-they assured us, jetpacks What the future might be.
In just a few weeks, Browning perfected his jet suit system, sufficient for regular continuous flight. He moved the thruster (too awkward) on his foot to a certain position in his lower back. Between his arm and the back of the backpack, the jet formed what Browning called “the thrust of the tent, just like the poles of the tent.” When we feel that we fall, we instinctively stretch out an arm to grab ourselves, so flying is very intuitive. He said: “Logically speaking, this is a Newtonian process. It just throws high-speed air in one way and pushes you into the air in another way.” With the support of some seed funds from friends, Bo Longing applied for a patent for this dress and established a company. He named Gravity Industries after the newly defeated enemy.
Browning has contradictions in how to expose his creation. When he was a teenager, Browning’s father gave up an office job and started his own company to sell his own innovative mountain bike suspension. Browning said: “He has been talking about the success we hope to achieve and hopes to achieve this breakthrough.” But the business is sluggish and the family is in financial trouble. The marriage of Browning’s parents broke down. “This is a great engineering idea, but the environment was very bad, and he was messed up by many people,” Browning said. Browning’s father struggled with his mental health, and Richard died of suicide when he was 15 years old.
“When my father died, I had a very powerful example of where following a groundbreaking idea can go wrong – you know, in most cases, it won’t work,” Browning said. Even if he found himself in the possibility of a lawsuit, he was still thinking about his father. He said: “I’m afraid of taking risks.” “I hate seeing risks hurting me or others, or causing the financial instability I saw when I was a child, and then causing harm.” Browning used the mythical Greek inventor Named after the father of Icarus, he called his jet Daedalus, and he flew too close to the sun.
Initially, Browning didn’t have many business plans. In order to reduce the chance of failure, he did not resign, but took two years of leave (he officially left BP in 2019). He said: “I prepared mentally for these five minutes of YouTube, and then returned to my daily work.”
On April 1, 2017, he released Gravity and at the same time released two short YouTube videos, one is WIRED and the other is Red Bull. The response was quick. The media referred to Browning as the “Iron Man in real life.” Browning recalled: “These videos received 1 billion impressions in a week.” Soon thereafter, he received a call from TED conference founder Chris Anderson. “He said,’Oh my God, please come over and have a chat. We made some room on the same day as Elon Musk and Pope. The transaction was on a $100 bill Signed and valued the fledgling company at $6.5 million.
Richard Browning (Richard Browning) in the gravity workshop, which is located in the outbuilding of his house in Salisbury
In June, I visited Browning at the New Forest Water Park in Hampshire. It was a quiet morning: the waves were rippling on the water, and black birds were singing among the trees hanging on the banks of the river. The lock-in of the coronavirus has eased, and Browning came to the lake to test some changes to the suit and shoot some advertising materials for the rum brand. For many people, this pandemic upended Browning’s tenure and career. Most of Gravity’s revenue comes from flying in live events around the world-China, Arizona, Japan-for which it charges up to 100,000 pounds, and it also comes from flight training experience, all of which must be delayed or cancelled. Browning said that despite this, this is not a complete loss. “We are now doing a lot of research and development work, otherwise we will not be able to do it.”
Since his first flight, many changes have taken place. On the one hand, Browning is no longer the only pilot of gravity. Today, the team has about 12 people-some are full-time, some are volunteers. They included engineers, former gymnasts and stunt performers; his two teams arrived in the lake wearing black widow suit crew jackets. “They are lightweight, usable, and good at following instructions,” Browning joked. When they are not flying, team members will fly a drone to shoot material for Gravity’s YouTube channel.
The suit is also greatly improved. Browning said: “The whole clothes are now 3D printed.” Climbing to the back of the Gravity mobile workshop, this is a modified horse box that can now hold multiple sets of clothes, camera equipment and tools. “This means we can continue to iterate the design. We have been making them lighter, more comfortable, and more compact.” The rear engine is now a large turbine capable of outputting 50kg of thrust. This will soon be replaced by three lighter and more powerful next-generation engines. “The latest iteration sitting on my workbench will begin in ten seconds,” Browning said excitedly. On either side of the engine, two large white fuel pockets can carry enough fuel-kerosene or diesel-for up to 4 minutes of flight. The head-up display in the helmet shows the pilot’s altitude, engine status, fuel reserve and current speed. His current record is 137kph.
Browning put on the latest version of the dress: a pair of mesh trousers, with the legs extending to form the tail. At high speeds, the air scouring under the wings will generate extra lift, allowing him to fly faster and farther. He said: “The ultimate goal is to have a leg wing, and then when you spread your legs, cut off the upper body wing, just like Buzz Lightyear.” “Now, you can almost use the speed of the wing armor almost without consumption. Any power, like the current Har-type aircraft, uses 20% of the fuel we currently use.”
He twisted the suit’s life jacket on his head. For safety reasons, gravity pilots will fly as far as possible over water. Although Browning estimated that Daedalus will fly 1.8 billion, he has not exceeded 10 million. Above this, you will enter a dangerous window: too high to fall, but too low to open the parachute. He said: “The worst case is that you will fall 20 feet into the water and need to replace the engine.” Each engine is electrically isolated and connected to a control unit that glows on Browning’s chest. A failure means that he still has enough motivation to land. “Our spirit is that we always take accountable risks,” Browning said, clicking the seat belt. “My rule is not to rely on a certain technology to live my life.”
Flying animals look unnatural on the ground. Browning bent over under the weight of the backpack, and was restrained by the wings of his legs, and slid to the edge of the water. One proboscis with a 360° camera sticks out of his shoulder, and the other sticks out of the helmet, making him look like a strange insect. Then, as he did hundreds of times, Browning pulled out the ignition trigger of the ignition device and the engine whizzed past. Within a few seconds, the engine reached temperature and was as loud as a scream, and those watching the crowd pushed in their earplugs and pulled out their phones. Browning walked to the dock, stretched out his arms, and the scour from the engine sprayed a jet of water into the air. Undoubtedly, there was an unexpected event that caused the birds in the canopy to fly. Then Browning lowered his arms to the floor, like a gymnast ascending the ring, so did he.
Browning is not the only one trying to revive the jetpack. The arrival of the micro gas turbine prompted a new generation of inventors to seriously consider this idea again.
In 2008, Swiss pilot Yves Rossy crossed the English Channel wearing a microturbine-powered wing. Rossy, known as the “Jetman”, performed in aviation shows around the world and signed a sponsorship agreement with Dubai State in 2015. In the same year, an Australian entrepreneur named David Mayman showed off the JB-9 while flying around the Statue of Liberty. This is his view of traditional jetpack design. In August 2019, French inventor Franky Zapata also crossed the English Channel and stood on a hoverboard-like device called Flyboard Air.
Flyboard Air is the foundation of Flyboard created by Zapata in 2011. Flyboard uses jet ski engines to jet water under high pressure to make people surf on the water-jetpack on water. Zapata’s company Zapata Racing has sold more than 10,000, mainly to high-end beach resorts, and as accessories for luxury yachts. Flyboard Air exchanges the water jet for six micro gas turbines. Zapata said: “In a way, it’s almost like driving a jet ski, but you can’t see the waves.”
Each design has its advantages-and its limitations. Rossi’s flight is high-altitude glasses, but his wings must take off from the plane and can only be piloted by well-trained wing pilots. Although Zapata’s Flyboard Air is faster and has a greater range than the traditional rear-break design, it has greater limitations: only Zapata can fly. The drag created by the influx of air exerts a tremendous amount of pressure on the pilot-tilt forward, essentially a human wing-low levels of turbulence can easily make the plane unbalanced. Zapata said: “It’s like leaning a chair against a wall, but ten more.”
The reason also encountered setbacks. Rossy resigned from Jetman Dubai in 2019 after claiming that the state stopped paying him and his team. (Ask Jetman Dubai to respond to this article.) “This is a sad story,” Rossi said. Although he left, Rossi also claimed that Dubai had retained the license for its original wing design and had re-employed two former students of Rossi to continue the program. In January 2020, one of them was Vince Reffet, who took off vertically on Jetman’s wing; although it was spectacular, low-altitude engine failure could cause some deaths. “They put life in balance. This is the spirit I don’t want to follow.” Rossi said. (“It’s dangerous, what are they doing,” Mayman agrees.) Rossi is now seeking funding for the new wing design.
Zapata also has financial difficulties. In 2016, he sold Zapata Racing to the US defense contractor Implant Sciences, but when the US hedge fund Platinum Partners’ $1.3 billion fraud case had a knock-on effect with one of the holding companies, DMRJ Group, the transaction failed. Invest in planting science.
“It took me several years to get out,” Zapata said. So far, Flyboard Air’s research and development funds have mainly come from Flyboard sales, but as the market becomes saturated, sales have slowed. He lamented: “Everyone who dreams of flying on water has one.”
Faced with such limitations, jetpack startups again face the same questions they did in the 1960s: Now that they are here, what is the purpose of jetpacks?
An obvious candidate is for military use. Browning aroused the interest of the British armed forces and participated in various training exercises, landing suits on tanks and aircraft carriers. He predicted that the Daedalus would be used to launch Marines from aircraft carriers or quickly transport equipment on the battlefield. He said: “The suits of the next few generations will lift another 50 kg, so from a military or search and rescue perspective, we can travel long distances and lift heavy objects.” In September, Browning conducted a test flight of air ambulance service in the lake area. .
Mayman and Zapata were also interested in the American and French armed forces and provided some funding. During last year’s “Bastille Day” celebration, Zapata flew over a military parade in Paris, brandishing a rifle (empty), and rushed into the delighted crowd including President Macron. So far, military interests have not been consolidated. The clumsiness, low noise and short-distance flight of jetpacks mean that, at least for now, their field potential is limited, and their competition with manned and autonomous drones is becoming increasingly fierce.
Faced with this reality, some companies are now turning to aircraft. Mayman’s Jetpack Aviation is developing a device called Speeder. It is powered by 5 jet engines and has the appearance of a “Star Wars” prop. It promises to fly at a speed of over 240kph for 30 minutes. Zapata is also working to make Flyboard Air more consumer-friendly: a simplified version called EZ-FLY-which has handlebars like flying Segway handlebars-will be available in 2021. “This is a machine that everyone can fly” he said. But his biggest revelation has yet to come: Zapata is still developing prototypes for jet-powered flying cars. He said: “This is a baby with a Formula One car and a racing drone,” “We don’t have doors, we don’t have wheels. This is just a seat.”
Abandoning jetpacks to build vehicles requires occupying a larger market, which is already full of competitors. In recent years, many start-up companies have begun to manufacture electric vertical take-off and landing (E-VTOL) aircraft, sometimes called flying cars. “Seven years ago, there were five companies in the E-VTOL field,” Mayman said. “There are now 240.” These companies include large companies such as Airbus and Boeing, as well as technology giants such as Uber, which insist on launching flying taxi services in 2023.
Competing with E-VTOL also needs to face the embarrassing and retrograde characteristics of jetpacks: they rely on fossil fuels. “A lot of people are pursuing the electric dream. They think the propulsion system we use is outdated.” Mayman said.
For jet pilots, their dependence on kerosene is not a disadvantage, but an advantage. Despite the hype, E-VTOL is still struggling with limited range and long charging time. On the other hand, jet-powered vertical take-off and landing aircraft can use existing infrastructure to land and refuel. Zapata said: “Today is not a good century for all-electric flight.” “The energy you store in kerosene is 20 times the energy in batteries. Most cars on the planet are still hot. You go on vacation by plane – this one. Is the plane electric? No, there is a reason.”
With the existing battery chemistry, it is almost impossible to use an electric jetpack. “You will need about 25 kg of batteries to get about 20-30 seconds of flight time, and then land again. It will be meaningless.” Gravity’s head of avionics design Alex Wilson said. Nevertheless, the company is still working to develop an electric training device that will be bundled with cables and reduce its emissions and fuel costs.
Browning longed not to surpass himself. He said: “I’m not claiming that we have products that can compete with urban transportation solutions.” With the development of battery technology, it may eventually be possible to achieve this goal through an electric version. But this is not now. “So far, Gravity has sold two Daedalus suits, each priced at £350,000. But Browning does not plan to mass-produce them. He said: “If you don’t know how to treat these people, you are vulnerable. “Instead, Gravity now provides a membership system similar to some supercars, where customers can pay for regular training and drive them under the supervision of specific venues. Browning said: “We are in this world The above is more advantageous because it allows us to protect people and protect our brand. ”
Daedalus’ near-term prospects are not as a consumer product, but as a sport. In the past year, Gravity has been drawing inspiration from Red Bull Air Race and F1 and is committed to the global racing series. These activities will be carried out on the water, where a team of two pilots will compete face to face, bypass obstacles, “push the limits of man and machine, and fly like a superhero in the real world,” Browning said. The first game is scheduled to be held in Bermuda in March until the pandemic occurs. “We are all set,” Browning said. Covid-19 allowed, and he now hopes to start the series in 2021. At the same time, he focused on improving suits.
Most jetpack entrepreneurs I’ve talked about hope that these devices will one day be everywhere. Mayman said: “From my point of view, we have cars and off-road vehicles on the road, just like we have scooters and bicycles.” Before that, the challenges they faced were challenges faced by every entrepreneur. : Find a market for them so that they can continue to improve their technology. “There is a (jetpack) business,” Rossi said. “It’s fun. There is no need for paragliding from A to B. It is fun. I think the main business will be the entertainment business.”
After the test flight, we returned to Browning’s studio, which is now his own annex building in his Salisbury home. Half a dozen iterations of Daedalus hang on the wall, with parts and prototypes scattered on each surface. There are few souvenirs here: Iron Man memorabilia, lanyards, newspaper clippings about gravity. Hanging by his desk are a bunch of family photos and a large illustration of Browning’s father stepping on a paraglider-inventor in flight. Browning said: “I am regaining the way my father saw myself trying to escape.” “I think this is why I keep finding a part of myself in these weird areas, because I think we are so close, and my father It’s so close, and he’s never been there. I’m trying to relive and make up for this terrible story.”
There is no doubt that Browning created something extraordinary-something that keeps human legs close to the earth. He is optimistic about the prospects of gravity. “Sadly, [my father] taught me one of these valuable experiences. This is a difficult path that has never been known. In a year’s time, all of this may be nothing,” he said. “There is no rule book on how we build this business, let alone the outside world now moving around in a completely unpredictable way.”
“But at the moment I was obsessed with this moment, I did need to spend a little time thinking, oh my god, but what I did was so close to what he loved.” Browning took his equipment back from the truck. , And throw it on the floor. There was a roar when landing. Then he left me to have lunch with his family.

Post time: Oct-14-2020